Although ultimate Frisbee might seem like a nice game to play on a hot summer day, it’s competitive spirit is stronger than you’d think. This school year alone, 11,000 college students on 650 teams battled through regional and sectional tournaments to qualify for this weekend’s Ultimate Player’s Association College National Championships in Columbus, Ohio. The championships have come down to the final 20 teams and, luckily for the UCSB women’s team, our very own Gauchos sit atop the tournament as the number one seed. On Friday, the team tallied two early and decisive wins in the tournament’s opening round, knocking off North Carolina-Wilmington 15-8 and Illinois 15-4.
Better known as the Burning Skirts around campus, the team first flaunted their skills in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, winning national titles in 1988, 1990, and 1991. After that golden era during the dawn of Ultimate as a sport, the Skirts disappeared from nationals until 2007, when they fell to Stanford in the finals. In 2008, the Skirts again came up short, losing to the University of British Columbia 15-9 in the finals.
This year, the team is aiming for the finals once again. In April at the So Cal College Women’s Sectionals, the Gauchos swept past each of their opponents to advance to the final match against UCLA. Although the Gauchos had defeated each of their opponents with marginal score differences, UCLA came out as their appropriate tournament match-up. The Bruins, undefeated in their pool play as well, threw out the Gauchos to a close 15-14 win.
“It was a really bad game,” Captain Carolyn Finney said. “We didn’t come out strong at all.”
Despite their loss, the Gauchos’ second place finish proved enough to earn them a bid into the Southwest College Regionals. Determined to make it to the UPA Championships, the Gauchos went 4-0 at regionals to beat the University of Colorado in the finals and take the first place seed for Nationals.
“Now that we’re ranked number one, everyone is aiming to beat us,” Finney said. “We have to represent our standing now.”
And the Gauchos will represent their standing with the players they have honed this season. Fifth-year senior, Andrea Romano, has been a strong offensive weapon this season and became a key player for the Gauchos to win this year’s Stanford Invite. On the opposite end of the field, Captain Kaela Jorgenson defended the opposition, a force that aided the Gauchos’ overall 35-3 record. Veteran players may have the skill, but ultimate spectators last year criticized Gaucho rookies for losing confidence in the final match. Finney said that won’t be a problem this year.
“We’ve won a lot of matches prior to Nationals,” Finney said. “Our rookies have seen what we are capable of and now have a lot more faith in the team.”
The Burning Skirts need to be confident if they want to win their pool at Nationals. Pool teams include an eighth-ranked University of North Carolina-Wilmington, a 12th-ranked Carleton College, a 13th-ranked Washington University, and a 17th-ranked University of Illinois. They proved confident enough on Friday with two wins; today, they play currently undefeated Carleton at 9:30 a.m. and Washington at 1 p.m.
In order to match up against the teams in their pool, Finney said the Burking Skirts plan on getting everyone into the game. With multiple contests throughout the weekend, they would rather worry about the opposition than being tired on the field.
“We’ll get fired up if we can stay fresh in the game, focus on who we’re playing, and what they can do,” Finney said.
Although the Burning Skirts can control their strategy on the field, there is only one thing they can’t control: the wind. At last year’s tournament, winds reached up to 25 miles-per-hour. Finney said the team struggled with the wind in their final match, but that they aren’t worried about it this year.
“Our handlers will make sure the wind doesn’t get the best of us,” Finney said. “We’ve gotten a lot of comments from teams who have said the wind doesn’t affect us.”
So while Ultimate Frisbee might still seem like a game played on the beach, there remains a big difference: National championships can’t be won on the beach and the Burning Skirts hope to bring that title back to Santa Barbara.